I’m guessing a couple of people I know, whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in several months, are happy. My surmise that Angie Stover and George Looks Twice are very happy is because last Sunday Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha became Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, the first-ever Native American from North America canonized by the Catholic Church.
In heaven and on earth, 10,000 bells rang.
Angie is the music director at Sacred Heart Church in Pine Ridge and George is the sacristan at Our Lady of the Sioux in Oglala. Both are Oglala Lakota in their hearts and to their bones. Both are also devout Catholics. For many years, after holding bake sales and sundry other fundraisers, they and several others have traveled from the Pine Ridge Reservation to the annual Tekakwitha conference.
Wherever it was held, from New Mexico to New York, with nearly a thousand others, they would gather to honor their patron and their shared faith as expressed through the cultures that nurtured them from childhood. All politically correct bitterness aside, this is not only possible, it is the daily bread of Catholics worldwide.
Of course, the yelps and howls about much of the history of the church among Native Americans are as inevitable as they are true. Wherever it co-existed and reinforced colonization under the rubric of Manifest Destiny, the Catholic Church on earth sinned repeatedly and terribly.
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This cannot be overstated.
Evil is most often a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That does not mean there are no actual sheep. At the first and the last, the true identity of the flock of Christ called Catholic is our spiritual call to sacrifice ourselves as Jesus sacrificed Himself for us. This begins with prayer, branching out into works of love and mercy to everyone, Catholic or not.
This spiritual call has created an equally valid and extensive history. Kateri Tekakwitha, the half-Algonquin, half-Mohawk virgin who died at 24, emblazons this authentic past from 350 years ago: that of the soul called by her Creator to meet the Son who died for her.
Meanwhile, the very real and merciless history of slaughter and conquest cries out to drown out. This is a function of the many mass injustices against Native Americans never adequately acknowledged nor legally and materially redressed. “No justice, no peace” is an old maxim, but a true one. Still, pressed in isolation, obsessed upon as the only reality, it becomes a prison.
Another prison was radically experienced seven years ago by a Lummi Indian child and his family in northwest Washington state. On Oct. 20, Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press wrote: “Jake Finkbonner was so close to death after flesh-eating bacteria infected him … that his parents had last rites performed.” But to the consternation of his doctors, after prayers to Kateri and a relic was placed on Jake’s leg, the five-year-old was healed. It was Wakan, as we say down on the Rez. In Rome, seven years later, with Jake and his family present, Pope Benedict XVI agreed.
Saint Kateri, it has a nice ring to it. Particularly because it is not the past, it is the now. That Catholics, corporately or individually, often fail to love is not news, it is why we need the church. Then again, every so often, by God’s grace, we get it profoundly right.